The notorious Sani Pass is a firm favourite among many 4x4 enthusiasts, and is considered one of the most dangerous passes in South Africa. It’s also my favourite. The problem is that it is in the process of being tarred. Once this is happens, the allure of this adrenalin packed challenge will be lost. So, if you want to experience driving this grueling pass, do it now, before it’s too late.
We decided to spend the weekend at Sani Pass Backpackers which is right on the border of the pass so that we could drive up the next day. Our goal was to bird the area (what’s new?), but no matter what your motive is, you are guaranteed to boast an exciting day.
At the border post we were greeted by a group of barking baboons before having our passports stamped.
From there we followed the Mkomazana River, as the road wound itself past a number of waterfalls and through water crossings. With the current drought they were not as deep as in previous years.
The scenery is breathtaking, for me this is the most spectacular road I have ever driven on. The landscape is covered with protea bushes and wild flowers were beginning to spring up, preparing for their summer show. The higher we drove the more the road began to zig zag.
Not far from the border post we stopped at a view site for a hot cup of coffee and snack. High on the hill above us was a Grey Grysbok staring at us before roaming into the distance.
It’s from here, that the road becomes exciting and at times heart-stopping.
In a mere 8 km’s, we climbed 1332 metres to the top which is 2876 km above sea level. Some of the drop offs are just plain hair raising and the hairpin bends so sharp, a couple of times I wondered if we were going to have to do a 3-point turn
(ok, I’m exaggerating now!!).
The road is a series of twists and turns as it winds toward the top. There are about 7 switchbacks each with a name. The two that stand out is Ice Corner and Reverse Corner.
Ice Corner has a waterfall which freezes during the winter months. It’s spectacular to see. Reverse Corner was so named as in earlier years you could not drive past without reversing to get round. It has since been widened.
Once at the summit and after visiting the run down border office, we made our way to Sani Pass Lodge. The view from here is dramatic especially when looking down toward our starting point. Without fail, we had photos of ourselves at ‘The Highest Pub in Africa’ before driving the now tarred road toward Mokhotlong in search of birds.
The landscape is bleak, dotted with sheep
The summit is totally different to Kwa Zulu Natal below. It is stark, barren, windswept and treeless. The landscape is bleak, dotted with a few sheep and sad, sometimes heavily loaded donkeys
Even if you are a non-birder the road is worth the drive. There is a small community of friendly people who welcome tourists. In general they are very poor and are grateful for the generosity of tourists who purchase curios made by the locals. After every trip I come home with a trinket.
Some folk are happy to be photographed, but they appreciate a monetary gift in return.
Click here for photos of the birds and animals found around Sani Pass
Meet the People of Sani Pass
Family Day on Top of Sani Pass
In 2012 we tackled Sani Pass in the middle of winter. The waterfalls were frozen and the summit covered in beautiful snow. A wonderful family day altogether.